Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gotta Have a Plan...or It's Cold in Alaska!

This guy is talking about Russians, but he could just as easily be talking about my friend, Robert.


Robert is married to my very good friend, Linda. They are taking me to Alaska with them in just under two weeks. We had a meeting tonight because everybody needs to know the plan. And everybody who knows Robert knows there is a plan.

He made copies for the meeting of course. First, he passed out the itinerary. It’s online, but there’s no guarantee that everyone would log on and look at it. And we have to know the plan.

Then, Robert explained that he had printed out the 10 day forecast for each stop on the itinerary from He read the highs and lows for each port of call. Now, we won’t be visiting any of these places in the next ten days, but it’s incumbent that we understand it is cold in Alaska. However, with a little foresight we can all have a comfortable vacation.

Robert followed up the weather report with another handout, “Packing for Paradise.” Dressing in layers is the key. His daughter, Sydney, produced two articles of clothing.

“Exhibit A.” She held up a fitted cold gear shirt and did her best Vanna White.

“Exhibit B.” Another Vanna moment with a waterproof rain jacket.

Robert stepped back a moment and let the girls examine the evidence and discuss their own wardrobe items. After an appropriate amount of discussion time, he stepped back in and explained that it wasn’t only the type of clothing that was important, but the amount of clothing. It would be best if we packed in duffel bags instead of hard shell suitcases because we could store them easier in our cabins.

There was a moment of silence, and then five teenage girls and three grown women howled with laughter, and Robert promptly lost control of the meeting. He suggested that the blow dryers provided in the ship’s cabins would be sufficient to service all our hair drying needs. Eye rolls all around, and the girls pow-wowed to determine who had the best blow dryer. They were at least willing to limit themselves to one good blow dryer per cabin. Then, he suggested ONE pair of shoes was really all we needed.

I asked, “Are you hiking on a glacier in the same shoes you’re wearing to dinner at the fancy restaurant?”

“Yes I am.”

Linda noted my bemused expression and piped up, “Back off Missy! I saw him first!”

Robert’s older daughter Hannah just shook her head and mouthed the word, “No” over and over.  Mind you, this is the same daughter who took three suitcases on their last cruise and wanted to pack a heater to keep her feet warm at night. Apparently, it’s cold in Alaska.

Sydney returned to the room with an unscheduled “Exhibit C,” a very large hard shelled suitcase. “This is what I’m taking!”

For one uncharacteristic moment, Linda got on board with the plan and suggested everyone bring a carry-on with our toothbrushes and a change of underwear. You know, just in case.

Hannah’s friend, Kaitlyn looked confused. “Is the flight going to be so scary that we’ll need a change of underwear?”

Robert tried to get back on track by switching gears and talking about the excursions we’ve chosen at the ports of call. All of the girls are canoeing next to a glacier on one of the stops. Robert wanted to talk about appropriate footwear some more, but Linda began making like Hiawatha and chanting.

“By the shores of Gitche Gumee…”

Suddenly, Sydney gasped, “Hey, it’s only going to be dark for like an hour!”

Robert shook his head.

I asked, “We won’t be in the Arctic Circle will we?”

“No! We’ll be a long way from the Arctic Circle.”

Kaitlyn, “Will we see the Northern lights?”

Linda, “Will we see a reindeer?”

Sydney, “Will we see a whale?”

Hannah, “Will we see Russia?”

Me, “Will we have wifi?”

I’ve given Robert a way to get back to the plan. Thank God for me.

“The wifi on the ship is sketchy and very expensive.”

Now this is an issue that calls for a plan. I began mentally working it out. I’ll have to write my blog posts offline, and then find some place to upload them when we disembark. Hannah informed me that Alaska is lousy with Starbucks, or at least it seems like it should be. She’s never actually been there. Robert ended the wifi discussion by putting the fear of GOD into all of us regarding cell phone usage.

We will be stopping in Canada, and what it will cost us to use our phones in the land of maple leaves and hockey is anybody’s guess, but just in case we were inclined to poo poo his warning, he told a cautionary tale. There was once this guy waiting to get back on his cruise ship, and he used his phone to watch a ball game. When the phone bill came, it was $4,000!!!

The moral of the story? Don’t watch football in Canada. Or throw our phones overboard. That way we won’t be tempted to use them, and it will be cheaper to simply buy new ones when we get home than to fall into the watching-football-in-Canada money pit.

One of the girls suggested walkie talkies. I suggested code names. Robert could be Red Leader and we could be Red 1, 2, 3, and so on.

Linda held an imaginary walkie talkie to her mouth. “Red One this is Red Leader. Stay on target.”

Then Hannah suggested we all get matching shirts “like those dorky families you see sometimes.” Kaitlyn was good with that as long as they aren’t yellow. Yellow is a bad color for her.

Robert seemed to realize his window of opportunity for communicating the plan was closing. He established the rendezvous place and time, and once again admonished us to pack light.

And pack warm.

It’s cold in Alaska.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Keeping Up

Over at terribleminds, Chuck Wendig has issued a flash fiction challenge in which takers click on a random sentence generator. That sentence then becomes the first or last sentence in your story of 1000 words or less. The sentences are mostly nonsensical, and therein lies the fun. I admit to reclicking several times, but I ultimately went with the sentence I got on my first click. Enjoy!

Keeping Up

“An officer doubts the pinched cyclist within an interference?”
“No, Gran!”
“And off is her towels the benched psycho with Ann enter fear us? It still doesn’t make sense.” Winnie laughed. “You need to slow down on the booze, honey.
“Put your hearing aid in, Gran!”
Winnie took a long swig of her sangria and fished around in the pocket of her shorts. “Let me put my hearing aid in.”
“Why do you keep it in your pocket?”
Winnie raised an eyebrow. ”Why do I keep saying fuck it?” She shrugged. “Most conversation is inane, dear. If someone comes around who has something interesting to say, I have my hearing aid right here.”
She patted her pocket, and then popped the tiny piece of plastic into her right ear.
“Now what were you saying about Ann and her benched psycho?”
“Nothing! Benched psycho? Seriously, Gran. I said, ‘An awful dubstep inched the vocalist with the audience.’”
“Dubstep inched the vocalist? A pinched cyclist makes more sense than that.”
A longsuffering sigh issued from her granddaughter. She pulled out her iPod “Dubstep is a genre of music. Listen.”
After 30 seconds, Winnie couldn’t take anymore. “Music! It sounds like an air horn got tangled up with a chainsaw.” She popped the hearing aid out of her right ear and slid it back into her pocket. “This is why I keep saying fuck it.”
“This is the latest thing. Keeping up will keep you young, Gran.”
“You’re drinking sangria next to a pool in Florida. Quit nattering and enjoy it.”
“Right. About that…” Winnie watched her granddaughter adjust her bikini top and look around. “I really do appreciate you letting me stay with you, but the men here are a bit…old.”
“Oh, these old coots are bold because you’re pretty. They say outrageous things to me too. We have good genes, dear.”
The girl laughed and choked on her sangria. “So let’s take our good genes and go dancing.”
“Take off our jeans? I still got it, and I still flaunt it, but stripping? I don’t think so.”
“You have way too much class for that, Gran, but that’s not what I said.”
Winnie stood up and looked at her behind. “You think so? I still do my yoga every day and I avoid fried foods.” She wiggled her butt. “You’re probably right. I do have some junk in the trunk.”
“Too much CLASS, Gran!”
“Well you don’t have to shout it. Besides, glass houses and all, your cute little bubble will turn into a balloon if you keep eating all those carbs.”
Her granddaughter fell back into the chaise with a sigh. “You look great, Gran. Put a pole in the community room. I’m sure you’d be the belle of the ball.”
“Thank you, dear. I’ve always been a belle with balls.”
“Now that is the damn truth.”
Winnie smiled enigmatically, drained her glass, and then closed her eyes and relaxed in her own chaise. Fifteen minutes later, a cool hand touched her thigh.
“I should report you for sexual harassment.”
“Ah, but then you would be forced to behave yourself as well,” a teasing voice answered.
Winnie opened her eyes and sat up. The change in position moved the hand farther up her thigh.
“My granddaughter thinks I should take up pole dancing in the community room.”
“What a fine idea! I shall have the pole installed at once!”
Said granddaughter was staring with her mouth hanging open. Winnie laughed uproariously.
“Rodrigo, this is my granddaughter. She’s visiting from up north, and she thinks the men around here are too bold.” She flicked her eyes toward the hand on her thigh, but made no attempt to move it. “She might have a point.”
Rodrigo ran his thumb under the hem of Winnie’s shorts and squeezed, then stood and offered the same hand to her granddaughter. When she stuck her hand out, he bowed and brushed his lips across it.
“Rodrigo Izaguirre at your service. I see beauty runs true in your family.”
“Good genes,” the girl stammered.
“And bullshit runs true in yours, eh Rodrigo?”
“Indeed, but you are the only beautiful lady who enjoys saying so.”
            “Oh please, I’m not the only one who enjoys the show. I’m just the only one around here who will admit it.”
Her granddaughter tapped her ear pointedly.
“Do you have water in your ear, hon? You should wear ear plugs when you swim.
The girl rolled her eyes. “Um…is Rodrigo…”
“My what, dear?”
Rodrigo chuckled, “I am her dance partner.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad. He’s my dance partner. Dance instructor, actually.”
“What? Are you learning the tango or something?”
“Tango or samba? Both. We’ve been tangoing for months.” She grinned at Rodrigo who was still chuckling. “I’m learning the samba now.”
“Yes, and I must steal your abuela for an hour.”
“As long as you give her back.” The girl looked faintly alarmed.
Rodrigo waved his hand in dismissal. “I am but a dancer for hire.”
“You’re always on fire. Cool your jets in front of my granddaughter.”
“She doesn’t have her hearing aid,” the girl murmured.
“I wouldn’t dream of taking advantage.” He turned to Winnie. “Shall we?”
Winnie smiled girlishly and took his arm. With her other hand, she smoothed her hair behind her ear, revealing the small piece of plastic tucked snugly inside.
She winked at her granddaughter. “Let me finish with Rodrigo, and then I would love to go dancing later. You can show me the latest thing. Like you said, keeping up keeps you young.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Today was the last day of school, and as relieved as I am to have a break, I’m also sad.

Really sad.

I have been incredibly lucky to land in a job that I love where I found my two best friends in the whole world. I met Pam the week before school started in 1999, and we clicked immediately. In 2001, Linda came on board. I haven’t stopped laughing since.

I’ve been across the hall or right next door to Pam for 13 years. We pop in and out of each other’s rooms all the time. Our current set-up has an adjoining door between our classrooms, and when it’s quiet in one room, we can hear the other teaching.

From Pam’s classroom: “x=2. What kind of line is that?”


“Are you kidding me? What kind of line is x=2?”

Me through the door: “Vertical!”

“See? Your English teacher knows!”

Every day before and after school, we leave the door open and talk to each other while we work at our desks.

Linda and I have taught a cross-curricular honors class for 11 years. I teach English and she teaches Social Studies. I throw Plato at them, and then she hits them with Machiavelli. Students work together in both of our classes to research global issues and produce documentaries. While I’m teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, she’s teaching civil rights.

Our personalities dovetail even better than our content. We’re both quick on our feet, and on days we combine our classes and teach together, it can turn into a comedy routine. We are such an effective tag team that in the last several years, demand for our class has taken it from one section to three.

The three of us have outlasted four principals. I’ve taught two of Linda’s kids and all three of Pam’s. They’ve taught both of mine.

We’ve gone on vacation together. We’ve spent countless weekends together, many of them starting with Friday after school staff meetings, a tradition we instituted to decompress at the end of each week.

For 11 years, I’ve taught shoulder to shoulder with these two amazing women. They are smart, funny, strong, and independent as hell. They have challenged me intellectually and made me a better teacher.

Mostly, they have been my friends. They have made me laugh until my stomach hurt, and they have propped me up and walked beside me through the most difficult times in my life. Outside of my family, there is no one I trust more than Pam and Linda. They always have my back.

Today was our last day as colleagues. Linda is retiring, and Pam is being deployed to Afghanistan in August. I feel like I’m losing not just my right arm, but my left as well. When Pam was deployed to Iraq several years ago, I still had Linda. Now I’m losing them both.

The old cliché says that the only constant is change. This particular change is hard to swallow. I have many friends at work, and I value those relationships, but nothing comes close to the bond I have with Pam and Linda.

Here’s the thing, though. One of the reasons we are such good friends is that we are each strong women in our own right. Linda is brave enough to leave the familiar and take on the next challenge in her life. She’s going to learn Italian and go to bartending school just because she thinks it would be an interesting part-time job. Pam puts on her uniform regularly and serves her country. She’s a bonafide badass.

I’ll be okay too. I hold leadership positions in our school, and I have some control over my own destiny. Tomorrow, I will sit on the committee interviewing candidates to replace Linda…as if that’s possible. I love being in my classroom with students doing my thing. I’ll learn to fill the spaces in between classes without my right and left arms.

I have a feeling that learning curve will be steep.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

50 Shades...You read what?!

Many of my friends have been waxing lyrical over 50 Shades of Grey. Some of them are reading it furtively on their Kindles and Nooks where no one can see the title while others are reading it proudly, cover showing, telling anyone who’ll listen how hot it is.

I haven’t read it. Honestly, I probably won’t, but not for the reasons you might think.

I don’t care that it was originally self-published, although the general consensus of reviewers in the blogosphere is that it could have benefitted from some professional editing. I have no beef with self-publishers. I’ve considered it myself. Get your stuff out there. Get paid. In E.L. James’ case, get paid a lot.

I have no issue with the erotic content of the book. I LOVE a good romance, and many of my favorites don’t fade to black when the hero and heroine finally make it to the bedroom. 50 Shades is part of the subgenre, erotic romance, which I generally don’t read. For my readers who aren’t romance aficionados, the difference between erotic romance and another subgenre of romance with erotic content is that in an erotic romance, the hero and heroine find their way to Happily Ever After (HEA) through their sexual journey. So…the sex is front and center rather than something that occurs along the way.

My favorite subgenres are romantic suspense and paranormal romance. In these subgenres, the protagonists find their way to HEA through a mystery or some sort of spooky doings. Sometimes, they get freaky while they’re being spooky, and hey, I’m all for that, as long as it makes sense in the story.

In a world full of many wonderful romance choices, 50 Shades isn’t something I would pick up and read in the normal course of events. Add to the mix the fact it was written as Twilight fanfic, and I’m really not interested. Edward and Bella explore their relationship through kinky sex? No thanks.

So, you might be thinking, why bother blogging, Kathy? You’re not jumping on the 50 Shades bandwagon. Bully for you. Do you want a cookie or something?

No, I do not want a cookie. Wait! Is it an Oreo? Oh, nevermind. I do not want a cookie. And I really, really, really do not want to read a book review over 50 Shades written by a 15 year old boy. Yes, you read that right…one of my freshman boys wrote their final book review of the year on 50 Shades of Grey

He strolled into my classroom with a question. “Hey, Ms. Owens, have you read 50 Shades of Grey?”

I raised my eyebrows. “No, have you?”

“Yeah, my mom let me have the whole trilogy after she finished with it. I couldn’t put it down.”

“I’ll bet. You say your mom gave you the books?”

“Yeah. Do you know what they’re about?”

“I’ve heard about them.” Now the grin starts spreading across his face. He was just waiting to see if I knew anything about the book. 

“Seriously, Ms. Owens, seriously, it’s a great story. Even without all the sex.”

“Seriously?” I repeated in the same tone of voice. Mind you, he hasn’t stopped grinning like the cat that ate the canary.

“I swear to GOD, Ms. Owens, it’s a really good story.” I was so tempted to tell him he sounded like every guy who’s ever read Playboy. “I read it for the articles.”

Uh. Huh.

Instead I said, “Well, I guess it’s up to you to convince me of that in your book review.”

Fast forward to Friday. I read his book review before school started, and handed it back to him in class. 

“You gave me a C.”

“It was a week late and a bit sparse.”


“No detail.”

“No detail? You wanted detail?”

“You have the rubric for the assignment. You talked all around the story without really telling me anything. I could’ve gotten what you wrote from the book jacket.”

“I promise I read that book. I read all three.”

"Oh, I believe you read it. That’s why you worked so hard not to tell me anything.”

He changed tactics. “It’s the book I chose, isn’t it? You said you don’t believe in censorship.”

I threw my hands up. “Did I say you couldn’t do your book review over this book? You still have to write a good review, no matter what book you choose. You’re lucky I know you’re a reader and I believe you read it.”

“So you don’t read books with sex in them?”

He knows he wrote a subpar review, and now he’s fishing. I know it. I’m not having the conversation he’s trying to have.

“I don’t read Twilight fan fiction.”


“Well, yeah, the main characters are based on Edward and Bella.”

“No way! They aren’t vampires!”

I took his review back out of his hand and read out loud. (I’m paraphrasing here and I don’t remember the characters’ names, but the gist is the same.) “Sally is fascinated by Joe, but then she finds out he has a dark secret. At first she is afraid, but before long, she is drawn into his secret world and wants him to make her a part of it. Now let me read that again and substitute the names Edward and Bella.”


I laughed and went on with class. I did notice several times that he was staring off into space with a bereft look on his face, and I felt kinda bad. He had an “innocence lost” expression. I think 50 Shades was just a titillating story for him until I offered real faces to put on it.

I like to think I’ve been teaching long enough that things don’t surprise me anymore, and boys wanting to read books with sex in them…that doesn’t surprise me. Heck this book is selling like hotcakes. A lot of suburban moms want to read sexy books. What surprises me is a suburban mom giving the sexy books to her teenage boy.

One day of school left…

Thank God.

Monday, May 7, 2012


In honor of his new ebook release, Chuck required that this week's flash fiction feature dinosaurs. In my head, I saw Fred Flintsone and Jurassic Park. Neither appealed to me, so I went a different direction entirely. Enjoy.


The Sauropod turned her long, graceful neck skyward. The days had become an interminable twilight. The gray ash contaminating everything had even stolen the sun.


Miriam stared out the window of the Gulfstream jet into a cloudless blue sky. The flight had been interminable. The last week had been interminable, but it would be over soon.


Sauropod stood over the clutch of eggs nestled in the once tall grass. The grass had provided a fine hiding place from predators, and she was an attentive mother, keeping watch, warming them with her own body on cool nights.

Now the grass was bent over, weighed down by the ash falling from the sky like poison rain, suffocating, turning a Technicolor world monotone.

She snuffled her eggs in an attempt to blow the ash away, instinctively sensing the danger. Her efforts were futile. The ash was falling faster than her great lungs could clear it away.


Blue skies were deceiving. They made you believe everything would be okay. They made you hope.

In spite of everything, Miriam still hoped. Not for herself. She was a lost cause, but for Philip who had a life to live, who had a future, a future she had jeopardized.

A bottle of Patron Silver beckoned seductively from the bar. This task would be so much easier if she could numb herself to what she had to do.


She needed to feel. She deserved this pain. Oblivion would come soon enough.


The ash stifled everything, even sound. The world had been on mute for days, and Sauropod didn’t hear the danger until it was on top of her. The bottle-nosed crocodilian slid out of the gloom, snapping at her great tree-trunk legs.

She could have run. He was too far from his water source to chase her, but she wouldn’t leave her clutch unprotected.

His razor teeth tore into her massive leg, and the taste of blood sent him into a biting, thrashing frenzy. She stomped and kicked, catching the beast squarely under his jaw. She used her size advantage, throwing her bulk sideways, whipping her long tail around and sending him end over end until he finally rolled to a stop.

He regained his feet and stood still as a statue. Sauropod paced back and forth in front of her precious treasure, stamping her feet in distress, not daring to get closer.

The beast waited, unmoving.


The plane began its descent without warning from the flight deck. Miriam didn’t bother fastening her seat belt. The water she had been staring at for the last several hours gave way to dry land, and then the New York skyline appeared in all its glory.

Her phone beeped. She hadn’t turned it off in flight. They hadn’t expected her to. These people didn’t worry much about that sort of thing.

The incoming text message had a picture attached. Philip sat in the back seat of a car. The photographer made sure to show the US Consulate, clearly visible, through the window. Philip’s face was tense, but Miriam could see it was born of determination, and not fear. Two small creases between his brows told the tale. Even as a baby, he would make those creases when he was hell-bent on having his way.

If her sixteen year-old son could push aside his fear, then so could she. The plane touched down, and she opened the attaché case on the opposite seat. A woman’s blazer was folded neatly inside. It was chic, stylish, exactly what one would expect a US ambassador to wear on business.

She slipped into the blazer, noting the extra weight, her fingers running over the hard plastic inside the front pocket.


The Crocodilian monster blinked once, and then made his move. Sauropod was ready, stamping and kicking to protect her injured leg, but she miscalculated. The beast didn’t attack her, choosing instead to dart underneath her to the nest. He snatched two of the five eggs in his long snout, and wheeling around, headed back to his murky hole.

She howled in agonized protest, and for a moment, considered following him. She couldn’t hope to catch him, and even if she could, her eggs were likely already gone.

She circled the nest. Three lone eggs remained in the clutch. The leathery skin on her left foreleg was torn and bleeding. She stared at the red streaks, startled by the sudden explosion of color. The ash continued to fall, mixing with the blood, turning the brilliant red to black, and then gray until all that was left was the pain.


Miriam descended to the waiting limo.

“Good afternoon, Ambassador.”

Customs waved the diplomatic car through the airport exit.

“79th and Central Park West.”

“The Museum?”

“I want to clear my head before the meeting.”

“Of course, Ambassador.”

Miriam fingered the hard plastic in her pocket, worrying it like a cold sore, embracing the pain.


Sauropod was weak. The nearby trees had been stripped bare, the ash-covered grass inedible. She dared not move further from her clutch. The beast was out there. She heard him sliding through the ash, waiting her out, waiting for her great strength to fail.

She tottered on wounded legs, and then lay down, circling her massive body gently around the nest. She closed her eyes, tired beyond reckoning.

The monster moved closer.

The ash fell.


Inside the museum, a fossilized dinosaur lay on its side, curled into a ball, filling the cavernous exhibit hall. Miriam saw it encircled a clutch of eggs.

She activated FaceTime. “I’m in position.”

“When your son leaves the car, you will have ten seconds to complete your task. If you do not, I will shoot him in the back.”


She smiled, “Run to the Consulate, Honey.”

A hand shoved Philip out the door.

The fossil’s placard read “EXTINCTION.” She climbed over the rail.


Miriam stroked the mother’s long neck.

“We both failed spectacularly, didn’t we?”

She closed her eyes and pressed the detonator.